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January 19, 2014

EXTENSION NEWS: Protecting yourself from the ‘silent killer’

By KATHY SMITH

Cold weather and sometimes power outages can make for the perfect combination for carbon monoxide poisoning, otherwise known as the “silent killer.”

Carbon monoxide earned its name as the silent killer because it is a tasteless, colorless and odorless gas. It is produced by motor vehicles, generators, oil lanterns and home heating systems such as natural gas furnaces, wood burning stoves, fireplaces and kerosene heaters. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 500 people die and 20,000 visit an emergency room annually from exposure to carbon monoxide.

During colder weather, ventilation is reduced to retain warmth from heat sources, increasing the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning. Homes today are better insulated and sealed against cold weather. Carbon monoxide can accumulate to unsafe levels when there is inadequate ventilation.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, confusion and chest pain. Since these symptoms are similar to other ailments, carbon monoxide posing can be sometimes difficult to recognize.

However, if multiple individuals in the same home become ill with the same symptoms when heat sources are operating, that is a very good indicator of carbon monoxide poisoning. Left untreated, the result can be unconsciousness, coma or death.

If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, go outside immediately and call 911. If others are not able to exit the home, open doors and windows to help the gas escape, while awaiting assistance from emergency responders.

To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, have your home heating system, including the chimney, inspected and serviced annually as part of your home maintenance efforts. When operating a fireplace, ensure the flue is open. Keep appliances in good working order and do not use a gas oven as a heat source.

Do not operate a generator in a confined space. It must be operated in a well-vented outdoor area. Do not sleep in a room with a non-vented gas or kerosene heater. Never leave a car or generator running in attached garages, even with the door open.

The best prevention against carbon monoxide poisoning is the installation of carbon monoxide detectors that sound an alarm when the gas is present.

Remember to send in the product registration information after purchasing new detectors. It is important for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to be able to locate owners of defective monitors in the event of a product recall.

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